Back To The Past (23):

Get ready for another blast from the past. In the roaring eighties there were enough bands with female members. Let’s have another closer look at one of these bands. A band that was never really popular or well known. But I think they were interesting enough to spend some time to and digging into their past. We put all the facts on a row and came to the following article.

The story starts seventeen years ago in Chicago, Illinois, USA. 1982 was the year, that this band started. The band consisted of Ian Tafoya-guitar, his brother Sparks Tafoya on bass and his cousin Nicky Tafoya on drums. They play a wild form of speed metal. After some thinking, they decide to call their band SNOWHITE. Nothing special you might say. But it becomes a rather special name, when you know these three wild animals have a black skin. A rather ironic name for a band with three black guys in it. But their music is very popular in those days and the only missing link on their ladder to success is a good singer. 'Till the day they discovered that their manager, who was also Ians class mate, could also sing. She decided to become a member of the band. Her name was Nicole Lee, the only member with a snow white skin, but with a golden voice made to sing heavy speed metal.
In 1983, they record their first demo in only six hours and send it to the record companies. On this demo we hear “Vengeance”, “Never Felt Like This”, “Something For Nothing” and “Hellbent”. Brian Slagel of Metal Blade loves their sound and he gives the band a chance to show the world what they’re worth. He adds “Hellbent” to the world famous Metal Massacre compilation part III. What an honour for them to see their name next to names like TYRANT, BITCH, VIRGIN STEELE, WARLORD and SLAYER, to name the most important ones here. After that, they realise this might be a big step forward, and they record their second five track demo tape. Songs like “Never Give Up The Fight” and “Know Who You Are” were never used on any record. But “Do Or Die” and “Rock City Destination” are to be found back on their debut album. But before they record this album, they first release a blood red flexi single with three songs on it. “Live For The Weekend”, “Never Felt Like This” and “Vengeance” are on this nice promotion single, which was sent to all the fanzines. On this single you can already hear that the band created their own style. Fast speed metal riffs, fiery guitar solos, a very cool drumsound and the voice of Nicole Lee.
Record company Enigma was aware of the fact, that we were dealing with a unique band here. They released the bands debut album, who had changed their name to ZNOWHITE in the meantime. Nicky Tafoya decided to quit the band however and he was replaced by Amp Dawg. The most negative thing I can think of about ZNOWHITE is that all their albums were so damn short. Thirty minutes is hardly a full length album. Most of the time the listeners were knock out already by that time, but got a slight hangover that the sound attack didn’t take a bit longer than half an hour. In those days the band was very popular for their great powerful live shows. They played as support to RAVEN and METALLICA to name but a few. Strangely enough, Enigma didn’t support the band the way they should do. They were not reliable and broke their promises several times. Reason enough for the band to search for another record company. Through their strong live reputation this was easier than before.
The band signs a deal with Erika Records in California. They also got rid of the diaeresis in their name, so from now on the band is called ZNOWHITE. It’s 1985 and the new release is a live LP, or should I say mini LP. It’s called “Live Suicide” and it contains seven songs recorded live in Cleveland, December 1985. Finally, we get to hear “Hellbent”, which was previously only available on the Metal Massacre III album. The live album contains three new pieces, namely “There’s No Tomorrow”, “Night On Parole” (which is in fact a short guitar solo and the introduction of the band) and “Rest In Peace”. On this LP, the band introduces us to their new bassplayer Scott Schafer. After this release the band starts working on a new demo tape in their hometown Chicago. The American departement of Roadrunner, Roadracer, gets excited about this new work and they sign the band in 1986 for their new release which sees the light in 1988. A closer look at the line up learns us that Scott Schafer is not the bands bassplayer anymore. He changed the four string for the drumstool and becomes the bands drummer. He is replaced by Alex Olvera. The band release their best album which is full of very sharp guitar solos and nine songs, that will kill your poor neck. It was dedicated to the memory of the bands biggest inspiration, the late Phil Lynnot (ex THIN LIZZY/GRAND SLAM bassplayer). Ian Tafoya (or should I call him Greg Fulton - his real name?) plays like he never did before. The many live shows and dedicated love for trash and speed metal made ZNOWHITE a band to remember. Through the years they supported names like LEEWAY, THE ACCUSED, WENCH, HADES and ANVIL, and got very skilled in what they did. It’s a kind of weird that right after the release of “Act Of God”, Nicole decides to leave the band.
Interviews say 'musical differences' made her take this big decision. Another version was, she wasn’t dedicated enough anymore. Whatever it was, I am sure she didn’t chose the best time to leave the band, 'cause finally they were ready for a final breakthrough. Ian however, was not sitting still and he soon gathered a new band besides him. He searched for a new female frontlady, 'cause he didn’t want to change the concept of the band too much. And he remarkably knew very well who or what he was looking for. Only two names were on his list, namely Debbie Gunn of SENTINAL BEAST and Dawn Crosby (R.I.P.), who at that time played in DETENTE, but who we also know for her work with FEAR OF GOD later on. Debbie felt like her band was standing still after the release of their only album “Depths Of Death”. She got the job. And drummer Scott Schafer returns to the bass, 'cause that’s what he felt more comfortable with. The new drummer is called John Slattery (ex TOOLS OF IGNORANCE). However, Deb-bie is not capable to bend iron with her hands, although she had great experiences with SENTINAL BEAST. SENTINAL BEAST consisted of Debbie on vocals, Mark Koyasako-guitar, Barry Fischel-guitar, Mark Spencer-bass and Scott Awes-drums. The seven trash, speed metal songs on their album were getting good response, especially the IRON MAIDEN cover “Phantom Of The Opera” was often called the highlight of this debut from 1986. They also got a place on the Metal Massacre compilation with their song “Sentinel Beast”. Mark Spencer went to FLOTSAM AND JETSAM. It seems though, the magic has left together with Nicole. And soon after Debbie took over her place she also decides to leave the band to join ICE AGE. She takes over the place of Tina Strömberg. And also this project, which was in my eyes one of the most promising all female bands, starves a sudden death. Debbie went back to SENTINAL BEAST, that have changed their name into BRUTAL GROOVE. With BRUTAL GROOVE, she records two demo tapes but then seems to dissapear from the earth.
And what about the others? Ian disbands ZNOWHITE and starts a new band that he calls CYCLONE TEMPLE. The band sounds trashy and can be compared to the good old sound of trash giants like TESTAMENT, ANTHRAX and earlier METALLICA. Scott Schafer and John Slattery from the last ZNOWHITE line-up are in the band as well, next to Sonny De Luca on vocals. CYCLONE TEMPLE make three albums before they disbanded in 1994. Ian and Scott Schafer just can’t seem to sit still for a long while and in 1997 they form a band called REBELS WITHOUT APPLAUSE. Mark Alano-guitars and Tony Heath-drums complete the line-up for this outfit. Ian handles the vocals too from now on. Realizing it was time for something new, he now melted funk, blues and powermetal together. Their EP comes out in 1997 and is called “Rip-Hop Soulcore Crush”. REBELS WITHOUT APPLAUSE still exists. But without a lady in their line-up. The story seems to end here. This month however saw the re-release of ZNOWHITEs “All Hail To Thee” and “Kick ‘em When They’re Down” on CD in a limited and numbered version through the French Axe Killer label. But their music will never return. Nicole Lee was never seen back in the music scene, which is a crying shame. But ZNöWHITE will always be remembered as a well talented speed and trash metal band. It’s a shame, they never made it to play on the stages of Europe. But with all the reunions, we can always hope that this band comes back for old times sake. If not, you can always have another listen to one of their records.

written by: Toine van Poorten/copyright Metal Maidens)

Discography ZNOWHITE:
ALL HAIL TO THEE ('84 Enigma)
LIVE SUICIDE ('86 Erika Records/Polydisc)
ACT OF GOD ('88 Roadrunner)
METAL MASSACRE III ('83 Metal Blade Records)

DEPTHS OF DEATH ('86 Roadrunner Records)

MY FRIEND LONELY ('94 Monsterdisc)

RIP-HOP SOULCORE CRUSH ('97 Rhythm & Dues)